The Our Chalet story
In 1929, the World Committee of WAGGGS met in Holland and decided that a
World Centre should be built for all Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in the world
Immediately Mrs Helen Storrow, a Girl Scout leader from the USA, said she would donate the money for the construction and the first four years of operation of the centre, as long as it was built in Switzerland. The World Committee agreed and appointed a Swiss Scout, Ida Von Herrenschwand, or Falk as she was known, to help Mrs Storrow find the perfect location for the new World Centre.
Choosing a site
In June 1930, Falk and Mrs Storrow visited many places in
Switzerland, but none of them seemed quite right. One perfect day they drove to
the beautiful town of Aeschi. On one side there was a view of the Bernese Alps
and the Lake of Thun, on the other farmland and cornfields. Mrs Storrow
immediately fell in love with the area. “It comes up to all my expectations,
here you can find peace for your soul”, she said.
However, Falk had concerns. Its beauty was unquestionable, but she told Mrs Storrow that she remembered that at 17 or 18 she had wanted adventure, mountain climbing and skiing – that she had not been all that concerned about her soul! Falk believed that the site was too far away from the real mountains and that the altitude was too low for winter sports.
Mrs Storrow said she still wanted to suggest the site to the next World Conference. Falk told Helen Storrow that she did not want to give her opinion about the site at the World Conference, because she did not want to publicly disagree with Helen Storrow. Helen Storrow told Falk that if she was asked her opinion, then Falk should give her honest opinion and not worry about who it may upset.
At the conference, Mrs Storrow showed the photos that she had taken of Aeschi and everybody agreed that it was a lovely spot. However, after Lord Baden-Powell had asked Falk for her opinion, he told her that if she was going to make trouble about the place that had been found, then she would have to find a place on her own.
Falk eagerly accepted, and headed off with the following list of conditions from the committee: the site must be near a main train line but away from tourists there must be hotels in the neighbourhood, but it must not be a fashionable place it must be high enough for skiing in the winter and climbing in the summer, but not too high for those people with heart trouble there must be sufficient ground around and pleasant neighbours.
The perfect spot
She rushed back to Switzerland and again started searching
in the Bernese Oberland. Eventually, she saw the perfect spot high up on top of
a hill in Adelboden. Climbing over fences and hedges (as there were
no roads there then) she was struck by its beauty as she reached the place
where Our Chalet now stands. A glowing evening sun shed its light upon the
mountain tops, cowbells rang in the distance, and she could not help thinking
that here there were possibilities for adventure and peace for the soul!
Falk and the architect Mr von Sinner telegraphed Mrs Storrow and she came in June 1931 with the World Committee to inspect the site. With eagerness, Mrs Storrow, Falk and Mr von Sinner climbed up the hill together. Mr von Sinner rushed ahead carrying a long pole on his shoulder and when the rest of the party reached the top, the American flag was there to greet them. They celebrated with a tea party.
The building of Our Chalet
Three months later, the concrete basement was built and the
wood for the rest of the house was cut; on 21 December 1931 the roof was put
on. Mrs Storrow came back in May 1932 to see the completed Chalet. There were
many gifts from people around the world that are still found at the Chalet
today in the Library (the Helen Storrow Room) and in the American room.
During her visit, Mrs Storrow decided that she would like a little house of her own where she could stay and receive her own guests. She also wanted it to be ready for the official opening two months later! Thus, the Baby Chalet was built and is still available today for guests to stay in.
On 31 July 1932, Our Chalet was formally opened by the first World Chief Guide, Olave Baden-Powell, and Mrs Helen Storrow. Most of the village of Adelboden was present along with Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from around the world. The Chief Scout, Lord Baden-Powell, challenged Our Chalet to become a school of goodwill and understanding among the future women of the world.
A world meeting place
Falk became the World Centre’s first Guider in Charge
(Centre manager), and Our Chalet soon became the recognised meeting place for
Girl Guides and Girl Scouts world-wide.
After an exciting first few years, the Centre’s role changed with the start of the Second World War. During these years, the Chalet was closed to regular guests; however it played an important role in helping to reunite refugees who had arrived in Switzerland with lost friends and family through Guiding and Scouting connections around the world. Our Chalet continued to be a place of international understanding and co-operation during a time when the world needed it most.
Following the Victory in Europe Day (V-Day) and the re-opening of Our Chalet, guests began to return in numbers greater than ever before. The Juliette Low Seminars, international leadership development seminars that had been held annually at Our Chalet since its opening year, resumed in 1946 and were again held annually at the Chalet until 1968 when they began rotating around all four World Centers.
The 1970s and 1980s
1968 was the start of another era of change at Our
Chalet. Inge Lyck, an avid skier and mountaineer from Denmark, took
over from Pen as Guider in Charge, and developed the Chalet’s outdoor
programme, challenging guests to greater levels of physical adventure.
During this time the traditions of having ‘Friends of Our Chalet’ sessions, along with special weeks for Trefoil Guild members and their husbands were started. These winter sessions enjoyed record snow fall, and despite many ski lifts being closed due to danger of avalanche, guests enjoyed the indefatigable camaraderie and friendship of Our Chalet.
By 1972, over 33,000 people had visited Our Chalet. The 40th birthday celebrations looked back over four decades of history, and activities focused on fundraising to upgrade road access to Our Chalet.
This decade also saw the conversion of the wood house into our shop and further developments such as the addition of water softeners, a deep freezer, and the installation of insulation and double glazing in Squirrel House so that it could be used year round.
A number of special seminars on international development and human rights, as well as several advanced climbing sessions, were held at the Chalet, and in 1978 the ‘Chalet Challenge’ award scheme began. This badge, only available to guests at Our Chalet who have completed a series of tasks, is still popular today.
The 1980s saw further modernisations at Our Chalet, including a new tile roof to replace the old traditional copper and stone roof in 1982. Water supplies were also later upgraded and the heating system overhauled.
On Our Chalet’s 50th birthday in 1982, whilst revisiting the Chalet after many years, one former Girl Guide said: “The young people of today still feel the magic of Our Chalet. They may live in a different world but find satisfaction and excitement in meeting people from other countries and sharing with them the adventures of the mountains. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that Our Chalet has, over the last fifty years, played an important part in international fellowship and understanding. It will continue to do so for many years to come.”
In 1986, Our Chalet hosted the first Helen Storrow seminar in memory of the founder of the World Centre. These sessions are still held today and focus on international education and awareness.
Our Chalet’s Diamond Jubilee on 31 July 1992 saw
spectacular celebrations, including several performances of a pageant of Our
Chalet’s history taking guests through its story decade by decade. Many guests
had been present at the opening of Our Chalet in 1932 including the Hon. Mrs Gervas Clay (Betty Baden-Powell).
Modernisations continued throughout the 1990s, with the refurbishment of the kitchen, the extension of the offices, the arrival of computers, the creation of the Our Chalet Foundation and the building of Spycher.
In 1990, the World Conference in Singapore had given permission for Our Chalet to build a new chalet-style house alongside the main house to provide extra guest accommodation, conference facilities and office space. The new building was officially opened in September 1999 and called ‘Spycher’, the name traditionally given in the Canton of Bern to a barn in which valuables are kept and equipment stored.
Our Chalet was the first World Centre to launch its own web site on World Thinking Day 1998, and during Thinking Day week in 2001, the site was visited by over 70,000 people. In 2007, the site was relaunched once again, matching WAGGGS new image and look.
Staff and guests at Our Chalet celebrated the new Millennium with snow games and a camp fire, and by watching the spectacular fireworks over Adelboden. The new century brought with it a wider programme of activities, an upgrading of all the facilities including an Internet café and other modern facilities, and much improved staff training and customer care.
Our Chalet today
Our Chalet is constantly undergoing improvements and upgrades in its programmes and facilities. Every year there is something new and exciting for our guests to enjoy. Most recently Main Chalet has had insulation added to all the external walls and roof, the dining hall floor was refurbished, the shop was moved to Spycher building and the previous space transformed into an Eco Hut full of environmental games and hang out space.